However, there have been few, if any, sustained accounts of how Abraham Lincoln in particular can be fruitfully understood in the light of Machiavelli's writings.
In this article, I argue that Machiavelli's political theory provides us with a framework that can be used to illuminate the words and deeds of Lincoln, one of our most important presidents. Machiavelli has, of course, been interpreted in a wide variety of ways.
In this article, I draw primarily on the competing interpretations of Machiavelli offered by J. Pocock and Quentin Skinner, on one hand, and Harvey Mansfield on the other.
Let’s Dance the Machiavelli - The American Interest
If one surveys the voluminous contemporary scholarship on Machiavelli, one will notice that these two interpretations stand above the rest in terms of their influence on academic debates. On one hand, Pocock and Skinner , have made the highly influential argument that Machiavelli was a civic humanist concerned above all with republicanism.
On the other hand, Mansfield has forcefully argued for the more traditional view that Machiavelli should be interpreted as a kind of "spokesman for the Devil" p. These two camps are sharply opposed to one another.
Why We Should Read Machiavelli
On one hand, Mansfield writes that Pocock and Skinner are "formidable authorities on Machiavellism But to study Machiavellism one must know Machiavelli" pp. In Mansfield's view, Pocock and Skinner do not genuinely know Machiavelli, for they falsely "believe in Machiavelli the republican, a promoter They do not see the real Machiavelli, the ruthless and cunning Machiavelli who had to be "tamed" by modern constitutionalism.
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According to Skinner , this view is "something of a vulgarization" p. But if these two camps are in heated disagreement regarding the proper way to interpret Machiavelli, they agree that Machiavelli had a crucial impact on American political thought. Both camps therefore reject the idea that American political thought can be understood solely in terms of Lockean consensualism.
For all of their differences, both Mansfield and Pocock argue that American politics cannot be understood without understanding Machiavelli. Of course, they disagree about the precise nature of Machiavelli's influence on American thought. In The Machiavellian Moment, Pocock offers an interpretation of the American revolutionary and founding eras that "stresses Machiavelli at the expense of Locke" p.
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The Perennial Pairing: Machiavelli and Power
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